Ticks are animals that can cause numerous health problems (not just Lyme disease). Now a new report from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that tick-borne disease babesiosis has spread rapidly over the past decade, giving more reason than ever to be aware of the parasite and the diseases it carries. So it is natural to wonder about the causes, treatment and prevention methods of babesiosis so that you can protect yourself and others from the harmful diseases.
The CDC report showed trends in reported cases of babesiosis. The data showed that between 2011 and 2019, the incidence of babesiosis in the US increased significantly in northeastern states. A total of 16,456 cases of babesiosis were reported to the CDC in 37 states. New York reported the most cases (4,738), followed by Massachusetts (4,136) and Connecticut (2,200). The three states with the highest incidence were Rhode Island (18.0 per 100,000 population in 2015), Maine (10.3 in 2019), and Massachusetts (9.1 in 2019).
“Three states (Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont) where babesiosis was not considered endemic had significantly increased incidence and reported case numbers similar to or greater than the seven states with known endemic transmission,” the report stated. . Because of these alarming findings, tick prevention and traveler awareness are extremely important.
Babesiosis is not particularly new, but it has shown an increase in both the number of cases and recognition, says David Cennimo, MD, an infectious disease specialist and assistant professor of medicine and pediatrics at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. “It’s a tick-borne disease caused by a parasite (Babesia) that infects red blood cells. Babesiosis has often been called ‘American malaria,'” he notes.
This tick-borne disease is not only spreading now, he says Amesh Adalja, MD, an infectious disease expert at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health and Security. “[Babesiosis] has always been widespread, but it appears to be affecting a wider geographic area than previously thought to be largely confined to it,” he explains. “It could be due to increased awareness, more testing and a change in the habitat of the tick needed or the deer the tick is associated with.”
Symptoms of babesiosis
Once infected, a patient’s symptoms can range from mild illness to severe sepsis, especially in people who are immunocompromised or have liver dysfunction, says Dr. Cennimo. “The clinical presentation is usually fever and a mild flu-like illness. But in severe cases, severe anemia, organ failure, and even death can occur.” However, Dr. Adalja says that many infected people are asymptomatic.
You may also develop the following symptoms, according to the CDC:
- Body aches
- Loss of appetite
Babesiosis can also cause hemolytic anemia, which is the destruction of red blood cells. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, these symptoms may include:
- Pale skin
- A spleen or liver that is larger than normal
- Pain in the back and stomach
Symptoms can start within a week, but can also take months to appear.
Humans are commonly infected by the black-legged tick, also known as a deer tick, which is infected by parasites, says Dr. Cennimo. “This is the same tick vector that carries Lyme disease. So if you live in a risk zone for Lyme, you could be in a risk zone for Babesia.”
When through infection tick bite is the most common way to get the disease, Dr. Adalja points out that rarely people can develop babesiosis also from an infected blood transfusion or organ transplant.
Treatment of babesiosis
The most common way to treat babesiosis is a course of antibiotics. However, not all antibiotics work for everyone. Dr. Adalja says that the combination of atovaquone and azithromycin is the mainstay of treatment, but clindamycin and quinine can also be used. “In severe cases, red blood cell transfusions can be used,” he explains.
Prevention of babesiosis
People can avoid babesiosis and other tick-borne diseases by avoiding tick bites, says Dr. Cennimo. He advises people to use tick repellent and do regular tick checks after time spent outdoors. “Also, because we have warm winters, ticks are active year-round, so risk time must be reconsidered.”
Madeleine, Prevention‘s associate editor, she has a history in health writing from her time as an editorial assistant at WebMD and her personal research in college. A graduate of the University of Michigan with a degree in Biopsychology, Cognition, and Neuroscience—he helps strategize for success everywhere. Preventionon social media platforms.